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What are Antioxidants and how do they work?

It is fair to say that there are very few people who have not heard of antioxidants. However, very few people know what they are and what they do. Antioxidants are not some super supplement doctors and health experts tell us to eat to be fitter, stronger, happier and healthier, they are much more than that and are a vital part of maintaining a healthy body.

What are Antioxidants?

Primarily used to protect and repair cells damaged by free radicals, we get antioxidants from minerals, vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need to remain healthy and fully functional. We breathe oxygen and while we need this to live it is very reactive and its atoms easily form molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are caused by a number of different things that include other chemicals around us, poor diet, smoking and pollution. Modern lifestyles, the environment and diets are leading to increased numbers of free radicals in many humans.

Free Radicals have an unpaired electron making them unstable. For this reason, they reach out to other parts of the body to grab electrons to give them the balance they want. This process is called oxidation and can be likened to rust on metal or the brown that forms on a peeled apple. It sounds nasty but a similar, albeit slower effect is happening inside us all as our damaged cells begin to accumulate.

Oxidation leads to disease

Just like a peeled apple rots quickly, the damaged cells in the body are more prone to disease.  Chronic free radical damage is well known to be part of the cause of many diseases and disorders that include heart disease and cancer. Those who have a weak or declining immune system often experience a higher than expected free radical count, furthermore this can lead to reduced brain functionality.

The use of Antioxidants

The natural way to control free radicals and the destruction they cause is through the use of Antioxidants. Antioxidants deactivate and subsequently stabilise free radicals to a point where then cannot attack healthy cells. There are many antioxidants that are formed naturally by the human body using a variety of mechanisms, however through a better diet and supplements the antioxidant levels can be greatly increased.

Sources of Antioxidants

Over and above the natural mechanisms for producing antioxidants in the body there are many superb additional sources available. Some the best and most easy to access sources of antioxidants and fairly common and include Vitamin C and E, Astaxanthin, Beta-carotene, zinc and selenium. Natural sources of antioxidants can be found in pretty much all fruit and vegetables, especially the ones rich in colours. Grapefruit, oranges and kale, for example, that are naturally full of vitamin C. Beans, oysters, nuts and red meat are excellent sources of zinc. And the list goes on.


In conclusion, antioxidants have many fabulous health benefits and the human body is better for them. Studies have shown they reduce levels of certain cancers and reduce the risk of heart disease. The studies are by no means conclusive, but the results are promising and there are no side-effects from inducing more antioxidants into the body.


Ron Goedeke

Dr Ron Goedeke, specialises in alternative and functional medicine. He is a foundation member of the New Zealand college of Appearance medicine and has been a member of the American Academy of Anti-aging medicine since 1999. With over 20 years of experience in the anti-aging field, Dr Ron Goedeke is recognized as one of New Zealand’s leaders in this new and growing field of medicine. Read more

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